165 sign request to rename college

Former Kavanagh College pupils (left to right) Claudia Unkovich-McNab, Rose Murphy, Alex Gorrie...
Former Kavanagh College pupils (left to right) Claudia Unkovich-McNab, Rose Murphy, Alex Gorrie and Christian Unkovich-McNab are among 165 people who signed an open letter calling for the college to be renamed. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
An open letter calling for Dunedin's Kavanagh College to be renamed is to be presented to representatives of the school board today.

The letter, signed by 165 ex-pupils, their supporters, and sexual abuse survivors, will be handed over to board member Paul O'Neill today.

The presentation comes just a day before the college's board of trustees was scheduled to meet tomorrow night and consider the call for a name change.

Board chairman Trevor Thomson said the issue would be discussed in a non-public part of the board's regular meeting, to protect the privacy of people who shared their views with the board.

The open letter was the work of former Kavanagh College pupils Christian Unkovich-McNab (25) and Sam Murphy (26), who also organised a public meeting on the issue, attended by about 50 people, earlier this month.

Their campaign came after ODT Insight highlighted the scale of sexual offending by priests, Christian Brothers and Catholic teachers within the Dunedin diocese, much of it while Bishop John Kavanagh was in charge.

He was also responsible for sending a paedophile priest, Fr Magnus Murray, from Dunedin to Australia in 1972, following complaints about his offending, and then endorsing his return to public ministry in the North Island, where his offending continued.

Mr Unkovich-McNab said yesterday both he and Mr Murphy had been "overwhelmed with support'' since starting their campaign.

"Frustratingly, some people still want to see further evidence before taking action,'' he said.

"However, the church doesn't exist in a vacuum. Every day the name remains on the school, it causes real harm to real people.''

Among those to sign the open letter was Abia Aisi, who said she had been planning to send her 9-year-old daughter to Kavanagh College - but not any more.

"For me, sending her to Kavanagh [College] would be like saying not only am I OK with sending her to a school with a name that has caused so much grief and suffering to others. It also says I support the church's decision to keep the name, despite the pain it has caused.''

She had received a Catholic education, and wanted the same for her daughter, but believed the church needed to expose past sins and protect the most vulnerable.

"The Kavanagh school songs speaks of 'hearts full of pride in our school'. How do we carry pride in Kavanagh's name when it swept so much under the rug?''

Board member Paul O'Neill has said any decision on a name change was ultimately one for Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley, but the issue was being "seriously'' considered.

The board expected to release a media statement on Wednesday detailing the outcome of tomorrow's meeting.



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